Georgiana Houghton’s Spirit Drawings at the Courtauld Gallery

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There has been art in Somerset House since 1779, originally built as a palace for Edward Seymour, the Lord Protector and first Duke of Somerset in England.  It is now a stunning setting for a hugely diverse mix of contemporary art.

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I visited Somerset House so that I could take a stroll around the Courtauld Gallery.  It’s permanent exhibition includes many iconic pieces such as Édouard Monet’s ‘A Bar At The Folies-Bergère’ and Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear’.

courtauld-gallery-somerset-house courtauld-gallery-artworkcourtauld-gallery-staircaseWhile I love everything there is about the Courtauld Gallery (especially the stairs), I was there to see Georgiana Houghton‘s Spirit Drawings, which were on show in London for the first time in 150 years.

Georgiana was born in Gran Canaria in 1814, she lived in several different places including Madeira, France and the UK. She called herself a spiritualist medium and in the 1860’s and 70’s she produced a series of incredible abstract watercolours, which Georgiana declares she created with the guidance of various spirits, including several Renaissance artists and higher angelic beings.

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While I’m sceptical about the spirituality side of the ‘Spirit Drawings’ what I can’t deny is how absolutely beautiful they are. I can only describe her work by saying it is like a Spirograph picture on acid.  Georgiana used specific colours to represent a person or spirit’s characteristics; Violet Carmine – Religion, Emerald Green – Self Control, Orange Cadmium – Moral Courage.

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These paintings are intricately detailed – in fact I went and grabbed a magnifying glass to really see what was going on in there.

In 1871 Georgiana rented a gallery in Old Bond Street and held an exhibition of her ‘Spirit Drawings’ abstract work wasn’t really ‘a thing’ in Victorian England and one critic decided her was “the most astonishing exhibition in London at the present moment” maybe she was just too ahead of her time, or maybe it was the rather expensive price tags, but at the end of the exhibition, Georgiana had only sold one painting.

Georgiana Houghton The Love of GodOf course looking back at it now we can see just how incredible this work was for the Victorian Era.  it gives a fascinating look into Victorian culture, a time when Spiritualism was quite the trend and also sets the tone for how modern art would develop.

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Showing this month at the Courtauld Gallery is an exhibition about Rodin’s fascination with bodies in extreme acrobatic poses.  Now if you remember how much I loved my time at the Rodin Museum in Paris, you’ll appreciate how sad I am to be missing it.